The American Empire and Personal Christian Responsibility

The American Empire and Personal Christian Responsibility April 20, 2017

Vox Nova is pleased to share the following guest post by Tom Johnson, a Catholic Worker from Dubuque, Iowa, USA.

I have been torn during this presidential election year. As a Catholic Worker, I agree in principle with the movement’s aims and means that the vast size of the U.S. Federal Government makes it “government by nobody”i and, its function as “an effective political forum for redressing grievances, next to impossible.”ii

Then came Bernie Sanders, whose message of economic equality and revolution promised what sounded a lot like Peter Maurin’s “new society within the shell of the old.”iii I felt “the Bern” and became involved.

The presidential campaign system, however, already biased toward the Establishment of the wealthy and seasoned with dirty tricks, rendered its foregone conclusion. I was swayed by the advice that “voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil.” I therefore could not bring myself to vote for either of the candidates, whose policies, to me seemed equally evil.

“But,” I have asked myself more than once, “where can I run from such evil? Where or what is that system which allows principled, compassionate government? Is holding to my principles an excuse for doing nothing?”iv Is it possible for a radical Christian, a Catholic Worker, to live morally, responsibly, and effectively within the current society? What spiritual attitudes and behaviors are required?

“The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker”v advises the adoption of nonviolence, practicing the works of mercy; doing manual labor; and voluntary poverty. Regarding nonviolent sociopolitical action, it advises:

Jesus taught us to take suffering upon ourselves rather than inflict it upon others, and He calls us to fight against violence with the spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting and noncooperation with evil. Refusal to pay taxes for war, to register for conscription, to comply with any unjust legislation; participation in nonviolent strikes and boycotts, protests or vigils; withdrawal of support for dominant systems, corporate funding or usurious practices are all excellent means to establish

I would further recommend – particularly for those who are upset by the current administration of the Empire – the practice of contemplation, a mystical form of prayer slightly distinct from meditation. Contemplation, or Centering Prayer, which leads one away from what Alan Watts describes as our artificial “system of words and symbols”vii to what is real, the world as it actually exists. In other words, we stop looking at our human-made map and regard the scenery, the world as it is.

Contemplation allows us to “Be still and know that I am God!”viii; that God is ultimately responsible and capable, not me or any other human being or system. It reminds us:

For just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down

And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,

Giving seed to those who sow
and bread to those who eat,

So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;

It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

It helps me to realize that God’s creative work, although yet unfulfilled, is nevertheless evolving toward wholeness, and with my/our cooperation, God’s reign of justice will indeed prevail.

When I act politically with the confidence that God’s justice will indeed be accomplished someday, I can choose more calmly and proactively, per principle rather than expedient or knee-jerk reactions.

Strangers and sojourners though we may be as we make our life’s journey as subjects of the American Empire, we may travel in the certainty that God will lead us to the Promised Land of justice.


 The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker,




 Maurin, Peter; “Easy Essays”;

The Communitarian Movement

aims to create

a new society

within the shell of the old

with the philosophy of the new

which is not

a new philosophy

but a very old philosophy,

a philosophy so old

that it looks like new.


 Alinsky, Saul; Rules for Radicals (Vintage Books, 1989) p. 25.


 Op. cit.




 Watts, Alan, Meditation, (Millbrae, CA; 1974) p. 5.


 Psalm 46.10.


 Isaiah 55:10-11.

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